I’m sure it can’t have escaped your notice if you’ve been into a local bookshop, browsed for books online, or popped into supermarkets or well known retailers in train stations, that it’s time to pick your ‘Summer Reads’. Whether you’re planning to slap on the tanning oil and sizzle by the pool, grab some precious reading time during the daily commute or shake out a picnic blanket in a country field, this time of year like no other inspires publishers and booksellers to recommend a seasonal choice of book. But is there really such a thing as a ‘Summer Read’? And, if so, what is it?
The logic behind ‘Summer Reads’ becomes clear once you think about it. It’s a time without any big gift-giving festivals, but it is a time when a lot of people take some time off work – so what better moment to remind people of an ideal way to spend their time which doesn’t cost too much, which will be fun and won’t take too much effort? With the advent of e-reading, you can even take ten books away for your fortnight’s break without ruining the luggage allowance. It’s too good an opportunity for publishers and booksellers to miss, and it’s also a great way to pick up some recommendations for books that you might not have otherwise discovered.
So – what is a ‘Summer Read’exactly? As you’re lying on that sun lounger or picnic blanket, or possibly stuck indoors watching the July thunderstorm downpour, what makes a great holiday book? It’s a chance to take a holiday with your reading, as well as in real life, but this will mean different things to different people. You may want something with a great story, which isn’t too taxing, to immerse yourself in like that inviting swimming pool. Perhaps you’ve got more time to concentrate now you’re not making the daily commute, so you’d like something to stimulate your mind and senses. Maybe you’d like a book which takes you on a journey, whether you’re going to be travelling or staying at home. Luckily, I’ve got a few suggestions of books I’ve enjoyed which might do the trick.
Chava is a golem, a creature ade of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.
Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable bond of iron binds him to the physical world.
The Golem and The Djinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends, whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice…
I loved this beautifully crafted and assured debut, set mainly in a stunningly realised New York, but also with forays into the ‘Old Worlds’ of Poland and Syria, which investigates what it is to be an immigrant in a strange land, how people struggle to integrate and still retain their culture, as well as a magical tale of adventure, love and a fight against an ancient evil. It’s a perfect chunky page-turning holiday plot-buster.
264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie’s Tokyo apartment. When he later inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined.
From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siecle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the netsuke’s journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.
In one of my finest impulse purchases, I bought The Hare With Amber Eyes to take on holiday with me to – you’ll never guess – Mallorca. From the first page, I was hooked. The beauty of the tiny netsuke themselves, combined with the history of de Waal’s family, is astonishing – as are the events which they both encountered and survived in the past few hundred years.
It may have been the most hilariously incongruous beach read ever, but it was the perfect choice for me. I found de Waal’s writing clear and easy to follow, while also being wonderfully descriptive and emotionally engaging, and I also learned a lot about some fascinating things I’d never come across before.
One summer, Simon Armitage decided to walk the Pennine Way – a challenging 256-mile route usually approached from south to north, with the sun, wind and rain at your back. However, he resolved to tackle it back to front, walking home towards the Yorkshire village where he was born, travelling as a ‘modern troubadour’, without a penny in his pocket and singing for his supper with poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs and living rooms. Walking Home describes his extraordinary, yet ordinary, journey of human endeavour, unexpected kindnesses and terrible blisters.
It might seem strange, in our summer holiday, to recommend a book which involves trekking through some of the least hospitable countryside in rural England, and of course sometimes it’s wonderful to real about exotic, strange lands – in which case, can I recommend the non-fiction of Antoine de Saint-Exupery? – but Walking Home describes Armitage’s quest to discover the Pennine Way, except from north to south, and at the same time to discover more about himself and his identity as a poet.
Armitage is great company on this journey, which, like the Pennine Way itself and the weather systems along the route, has its highs and its lows. Even at the journey’s more trying moments, Simon describes the pathos of the situation with a grim, dark humour which is essentially British and incredibly relatable. It’s certainly awakened in me a great curiosity to visit these beautiful places for myself, although perhaps not all in one epic walk…
I’m looking forward to compiling my Summer Reading list for 2015 at the moment. I’m going to be dipping into non-fiction – my ‘holiday’ from usual fiction reading – with some more political and feminist books, I’ve got the latest Kate Atkinson lined up, and of course, the fantastic Fiction Uncovered 2015 list. Now all we need is the sunshine!
Kate is a former secondary school teacher, who reads like her life depends on it, as long as she’s awake enough. She’ll read almost anything, but loves cold crime, good quality sci-fi and fantasy and young adult fiction. She studied English Lit at Duham, where she wrote her dissertation on the changing portrayal of girls and women in Children’s Fiction. She also writes about books at AdventuresWithWords.com and hosts a fortnightly books podcast with Rob Chilver. She can be found on Twitter: @